Patrick Baltzell at the U.S. Capitol. WASHINGTON–At noon on Jan. 21, 2013, the 57th Presidential Inauguration will be held on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Sound design consultant Patrick Baltzell has been tasked with ensuring the assembled audience will hear President Barack Obama when he swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Baltzell is a consultant who operates a small firm, Baltzell Audio Design, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. This is the fourth presidential inauguration for which Baltzell has designed the sound system; he also supported Obama’s first inauguration as well as both of President George W. Bush’s swearing-in ceremonies.
Baltzell has been in the audio business for more than three decades. He started as a sound engineer mixing shows at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. After five years he moved to Los Angeles where he began working in television as, again, a sound engineer.
Five years later Baltzell started his consultancy, which he has operated for 22 years, overseeing the sound design for 1,100 television specials including the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Atlanta and Salt Lake City, all the Democratic National Conventions since 1988, all the Republican National Conventions since 1992, and the last 16 Super Bowl halftime shows.
Being a veteran of big events helped Baltzell gain the attention of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. At the inauguration ceremonies prior to 2001, three sound professionals were hired to oversee three different jobs, he said. That included designing the system, measuring the area where the system is placed and operating the mixing board, he said. “I made my niche as the guy who does all of it.”
Because the size and location of the stage structure, as well as the audience, are unusual, the design is “a real hodge-podge collection” of small speakers located under the seats of various audience members to 16 speaker towers—ranging in height from 25 to 35 feet—placed at various spots on the Capitol’s west grounds and on the National Mall, Baltzell said.
The sound coverage is for 280,000 people, and there are a large number of VIP dignitaries on the same stage as well as in the audience, Baltzell said. The stage will hold more than 1,600 people including members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, cabinet members and nominees, justices of the Supreme Court, former presidents, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, governors, the diplomatic corps and the president, vice president and their families, according to the inaugural committee.
“There’s a lot of measuring that integrates all that and which involves equalization; I do all of that,” he said. “I walked around and listened. I know what it sounds like all over this audience area. I know the areas where it’s not perfect because of the trees or the buildings,” he said. Those areas were compensated for when the system was designed, he added.
IN THE ‘HOT SEAT’
Then there is the actual mixing of the show, which requires tracking “the back and forth” between Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts—who is administering the oath of office—and Obama, said Baltzell. “Maybe it’s because I’m a micromanager, or because I don’t trust anyone, but I’d rather it be me in the hot seat controlling the microphone when that happens,” he said.